How listening to your child can be as important as talking to them

Dove self-esteem project body confidence resources for teens

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Parent Info has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to offer parents advice and information to help children and young people build confidence and feel good about themselves.

In this article, we look at how parents can develop their listening skills to help their child open up about self-esteem issues

‘Allow your child to share their emotions without feeling like you’re going to judge them’

Sometimes it can seem that there’s a world of difference between your own experiences growing up and your child’s.

But just because you grew up in a less digital age, it doesn’t mean your experiences are completely different. It’s the way situations and discoveries make your child feel, rather than specific details that are important. In fact, quite often the emotional upheavals of growing up are similar between parent and child.

Sharing these common emotions and how you coped with them when you were your child’s age is a great way to help them build self-esteem and encourage good communication between the two of you.

Listening first, solutions second

The key to teen communication is having good listening skills. Pay attention to any worries or difficulties your child may be having without judging them or telling them how to deal with them. Putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how they’re feeling will help foster mutual understanding and create a stronger bond between you.

Dove Self-Esteem Project expert Dr Christina Berton urges parents to ‘remember how different situations made you feel, and give plenty of space for listening. You want to stay connected, so you need to allow your child to share their emotions with you without feeling like you’re going to judge them.’

How ‘active listening’ can help

Practising active listening skills is key to good communication. Empathise with their problems instead of rushing to fix them, and let them know you're always there to listen to what they’re going through. In negotiations between people in conflict scenarios (such as wars and strikes), it's recommended that opposing sides repeat what the other person says because it shows empathy. Try this with your child by reflecting their words back to them.

For example, say: ‘So you’re worried your friend doesn’t like you anymore?’ It may sound rather fake at first, but it shows them that you understand and are listening to them.

When your child’s self-esteem is dented by a social setback, you can help them build it back up. Reassure them that they’re loved, focus on their best qualities, and remind them of good experiences they’ve had.

Dr Berton says some parents may focus too much on their own experience and giving advice.

‘It’s important that parents realise this is about their child,’ she says. ‘Go at their pace because it’s really about their ability to express themselves and honour their feelings, thoughts and needs.’

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on ParentZone.org.uk